Spanish workers demonstrated what will be needed to stop austerity in Europe with their successful general strike on September 29. The “socialist” president of Spain, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, promised to “never make workers pay for the crisis.” He lied.
In May this year, under pressure from the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Zapatero introduced a series of cuts to workers’ living standards to pay off the national debt. He has cut public sector wages, raised the age of retirement, lowered pensions, privatised public services and made it easier to sack workers. This offensive will worsen the dire situation. Since the outset of the crisis, unemployment has doubled to 20 per cent.
Leaders of the major unions, Comisiones Obreros (CCOO) and General Workers Union (UGT), shamefully delayed strike action until after the reforms had passed. Thankfully, the widespread anger at the government fed into the strike, giving form and direction to the general feeling of discontent. Around 80 per cent of workers struck, and 1.7 million demonstrated across the country.
Metal, manufacturing, cleaning and agricultural sectors were almost stopped. Two independent television channels went off air and transport was nearly at a total stop.
Picket lines sprung up to stop buses and cleaning trucks leaving depots, successfully barricading the exits for the first few hours of the morning.
Tens of thousands took to the streets during the day, stopping traffic and closing down any open shops to chants of “not one step back! No to the reforms; general strike!” and “we won’t pay for your crisis!”
The atmosphere was victorious and defiant; by the end of the day every shop in the centre of the city was plastered with union stickers saying; “closed for general strike!”
The strike coincided with European wide protests, including a demonstration of over 100,000 in Belgium and a series of strikes in Greece by bus and train drivers, doctors in public hospitals as well as protests against pension cuts in France. More international mobilisation like this could bring all of Europe to a stop.
Zapatero is refusing to alter the reforms at all, only vaguely offering to negotiate “other important matters”. To stop him, we need to build on the new confidence the working class gained from the strike to push the big unions into calling more industrial action.
By Daisy Farnham, in Madrid